Daily Telegraph (UK): Why the failings of judges are kept in the family: “…the ombudsman will be able to review complaints about judges. You cannot complain that the judge has decided your case in the wrong way: that's a matter for the appeal courts. But you can object to inappropriate remarks made during the course of a trial…”: Thursday 30 June 2005
The Government's attempt to get free advertising in today's newspapers for the newly created post of Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman went slightly awry yesterday.
The new ombudsman will ensure "the transparency of the new framework for judicial appointments", according to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer. But the only thing that reporters were interested in was why judges who misbehave will not be named and shamed.
Whoever gets the ombudsman's job (£50,000 for a two-day week) will have two roles.
First, he or she will investigate complaints that the new Judicial Appointments Commission, which starts work next April, has not followed proper procedures or has discriminated unjustifiably against a candidate seeking appointment to the judiciary. Secondly, the ombudsman will be able to review complaints about judges.
You cannot complain that the judge has decided your case in the wrong way: that's a matter for the appeal courts. But you can object to inappropriate remarks made during the course of a trial, rude or offensive conduct or unacceptable delay in giving judgment.
Lord Falconer's department disclosed yesterday that "about 250 allegations of misconduct by judges or tribunal members were investigated last year, of which 11 were referred for judicial investigation". In addition, there were about 40 investigations into allegations of misconduct by magistrates. The "most prevalent" complaints were about judges being discourteous in court - and disciplinary action followed in 68 cases.
What disciplinary action? That was when Lord Falconer - and Lord Woolf, who was briefing reporters with him yesterday - became slightly coy. Clearly, no judge has been sacked: we would have known about that. So that leaves lesser sanctions such as formal warnings, admonishments and reprimands - and we certainly have not been told about 68 of those.
Next April, the Office for Judicial Complaints will replace the existing Judicial Correspondence Unit, supporting the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice in their disciplinary functions. And will the new office name names? Generally speaking, the answer is no.
In a particular case, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice may agree that public confidence in the judicial system "demands that the fact that a judicial office-holder has been subject to disciplinary action, or has been exonerated, be made public".
But Lord Falconer and Lord Woolf made it clear that, more often than not, public confidence would be harmed if we knew which judges had received a black mark against their names - although it was open to complainants to publicise the fact that a complaint had been upheld.
In most cases, said the Lord Chancellor, it would be inappropriate to publicise the disciplinary process.
Lord Woolf said there had been occasions when judges had been publicly reprimanded. But if individual judges were to continue sitting, their failings should not be held out too readily to the public.
But police officers, doctors and teachers are often named - and sometimes suspended - after complaints. Why should judges be treated differently?
Lord Woolf said: "A judge is in a unique position because they may have to continue to act as a judge."
But if the complaint is serious enough to undermine public confidence, shouldn't the public know? And if it is not serious enough, why not tell us?
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